Inspiring. Motivating. Eye-opening. And most definitely girl-crush instilling. Attending my first Fem in EM Idea Exchange (FIX) in 2018 was definitely an opportunity to see the can-do and have-done successes of women in medicine. And let me tell you, it is impressive what these amazing women are doing.
The gifted, diverse speakers have overcome such adversity losing loved ones, physical handicaps, sexual orientation discrimination; or they have accomplished so much fighting for international women’s rights, starting companies, changing legislation. They balance families and friends with their medical career. AND they are taking the time to share their stories to inspire us. To pay it forward. They can seemingly do it all.
With a June graduation rapidly approaching, I feel like I’m still struggling to eat and sleep like a semi-functional human being while trying to learn emergency medicine in residency. How do these super-women do it?
Watching them on stage and all put-together, their accomplishments can seem unattainable. And there were moments when I questioned: do I deserve to be here among these talented female doctors? Am I doing enough?
– Spoiler alert. I do deserve it. As do you. And yes, we are doing enough. –
But why did my thoughts turn to my own self-doubt? Was I struggling from feminist in EM imposter syndrome? Is that even a thing…?
Imposter syndrome is the feeling of doubt that you are inadequate or undeserving of the accomplishments, career, or success that you have. Despite overwhelming evidence that you are qualified, you feel like a fraud. Prior FemInEM posts excellently address this syndrome, including Dr. Hope’s 2017’s FIX conference lecture and blog post referenced below (1).
Looking at women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), studies have recognized this “unattainable” metric for young girls and women. First of all, there’s a dissuasion to go into STEM fields for young girls because the female STEM stereotypes in popular culture are usually limited to being nerdy or unbelievably still feminine as the exception, not the rule (2). In reality, studies show that looking too “feminine” meant you were perceived as less likely a scientist (3).
The solution seems easy enough. Promote the true, diverse portrayal of women in STEM to include our wonderfully nerdy and inquisitive natures as well as our variable levels of femininity. Well, another study revealed a further conundrum. Women who were both in STEM and appeared very feminine were perceived as “unattainable” by middle school girls, which resulted in demotivating the girls to pursue STEM classes in high school classes and as careers (4).
Were my perceived unattainable standards of successful women in medicine leading to my feelings of imposter syndrome? And is there a way to minimize this imposter syndrome effect? Well there must be because I certainly left the conference with optimistic enthusiasm, not dissuaded. What did the speakers include that helped their admirable successes seem feasible, even for self-doubting me?
By the end of each talk, speakers had a way of sharing their own struggles. Their raw emotions, set backs, and let downs. Their humanness. And despite awing at their successes, it was instead these struggles that made me most inspired. Not that I wanted them to have had to struggle, of course. But to know that they had their doubts and their rough days, too, and to see their success now gave me hope that I could do it, too.
I think it’s important to recognize what we achieve every day.
What do you do every day at work? Take care of all patients.
In the ED, we have the distinct luxury of treating every patient who comes through our door. Granted, we have many limitations, but we still have the ability to treat each patient with respect. So regardless of their gender, age, immigration status, religion, ethnicity, orientation, we can hear them, see them, and treat them respectfully as fellow humans. Sure, it’s not lobbying on Capitol Hill, but it is helping to make a positive impact on their lives. And it matters. Please, continue to lobby and march and do more. We must. But don’t underestimate what you already achieve daily. And I am including myself in this pep talk over here.
The sky is the limit on what we are able to accomplish, it’s
true. Yes, keep looking forward and upwards to improve. But don’t get so busy
looking up at the clouds to do better and better that you forget to look down
at the mountain you’ve already climbed up and overcome.
- Hope, J. “Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: You Don’t Have to Fake It, You’ve Made It!” www.FemInEM.org. 30 Jan 2018.
- The Lydia Hill Foundation & The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. “Portray Her: Representation of Women STEM Characters on Television.” Retrieved from https://seejane.org/.
- Banchefsky, S., Westfall, J., Park, B. et al. (2016) “But You Don’t Look Like A Scientist!: Women Scientists with Feminine Appearance are Deemed Less Likely to be Scientists.“ Sex Roles, 75: 95-109.
- Betz, D and Sekaquaptewa, D. (2012) “My Fair Physicist? Feminine Math and Science Role Models Demotivate Young Girls.” Social Psychological and Personality Science, Vol: 3, Issue: 6: 738-746 .